Talking Healthy Habits with Kids: A Dietitian Shares Her Strong4Life Secrets!

February 23, 2015

As a public health dietician with Fulton County’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, Greta Sebestyen, MS, RD, LD, knows a thing or two about helping families make changes for a healthier lifestyle.

But as we all know, change is hard – especially when it comes to kids!

"I was getting a lot of resistance from moms when talking with them about their child's high body mass index or BMI," Sebestyen said. "Sometimes there was denial there was even a problem, and sometimes they’d just tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. Either way, they were not making any changes. I needed tools to help me communicate effectively with these moms."

Working with the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) WIC program and Georgia Shape, the Governor’s childhood obesity initiative, Strong4Life created training and tools to equip providers with advanced skills needed to promote healthy behaviors to WIC clients in an informative and encouraging manner.

“After partnering with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to train physicians with this content, we realized how effective it was and wanted to arm other providers with the same tools and resources,” said Emily Anne Vall, Ph.D., Georgia Shape project manager. “We were all very excited about the project and worked to create a program that would align messages across the state to reach populations that really benefit from this work.”

Through the Strong4Life training, WIC providers are educated on evidence-based counseling strategies such as SMART goal setting and motivational interviewing – two skills that complement each other when helping clients implement positive health behaviors that meet their personal lifestyle needs.

“The Strong4Life provider training has become an excellent resource for WIC providers throughout Georgia,” said Barbara Stahnke, MEd, RD, LD, nutrition program specialist, Program Operations and Nutrition Office, Georgia WIC program. “The training provides them with expertise on counseling and communication strategies to guide their discussions about health and wellness. Furthermore, it assists WIC in meeting our statewide program requirement of providing Value Enhanced Nutrition Education (VENA) established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Since participating in Strong4Life's provider training, Sebestyen has now earned the title of WIC Champion. As a WIC Champion, Sebestyen helps increase utilization of Strong4Life’s training principles by offering technical support and guidance to other WIC providers throughout the state.

Sebestyen says it doesn't take an advanced degree to talk to your kids about healthy habits. Here are a few tips she learned from her Strong4Life training that anyone can use at home:

  • Start with the Strong4Life Healthy Habits – eat right, be active, get support and have fun. It is simple, easy to remember and truly displays the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle for kids of any age.
  • Choose your words carefully. Instead of using words like "diet" or "overweight," Sebestyen finds focusing on adding things that make you healthier (like fruits and veggies and exercise) lowers resistance to change.
  • Look and listen. These are two of your best tools for success: "Ask your kids what their favorite foods are. Take note if they seem to love apples and carrots then offer those healthy options often,” she says.
  • Outline your new healthy habits for all your child's caretakers. This keeps your child’s options consistent while at home and away.
  • Make it fun! Sebestyen says making healthy changes can actually be fun for your kids! "Get creative – grab a water bottle with a favorite cartoon character and fill it up, go roller skating as a family, create veggie art on your dinner plate," she says. "If your kids see you having fun with it, they'll join in!
  • Consistency is key. With any change you may face resistance, but Sebestyen says stick with it and your persistence will pay off. "Just keep offering the healthy options and eventually even the pickiest eater will get on board."

For more information about Strong4Life, please visit To learn more about Georgia Shape and DPH’s WIC program, visit or

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